The Fentanyl Epidemic

an image of fentanyl next to a pennyWhen used legally, fentanyl is a prescription painkiller. On a small scale, the drug is diverted from the legitimate market for sale. But it is illegal fentanyl, mostly made in Chinese and Mexican underground labs, that is largely responsible for the current epidemic in Manchester and across the country.1 

The DEA issued a nationwide alert about the dangers of fentanyl and fentanyl related compounds in March 2015. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued a health advisory in October of that year to put public health departments, healthcare providers, first responders, medical examiners and coroners on alert.1

Users are attracted to fentanyl’s strong, euphoric high. The addiction is very strong. Many users constantly seek out the drug to avoid withdrawal.1

The fentanyl epidemic has hit New Hampshire really hard. Drug dealers often market and sell the drug as heroin, and many times heroin users don’t know they are buying fentanyl or heroin mixed with fentanyl.2 In addition, the use of counterfeit prescriptions containing fentanyl, or one of its related compounds, has led to an increase in fatal and non-fatal overdoses. Many times, users don’t know what they are taking and/or think they are taking a less potent diverted pharmaceutical.2

 ‘Fentanyl Mills’

Since 2015, officials have discovered a number of heroin/fentanyl processing “mills” throughout New England.2 Criminals often use hotels or their own homes to mix the drugs, and some of the fentanyl related compounds are many times more potent than fentanyl alone.fentanyl spill

One instance: in August 2015, Manchester’s DEA, along with other New Hampshire officials raided a fentanyl mill in a New Hampshire hotel. The traffickers were using the room’s kitchenette (pictured) to mix heroin and fentanyl together. They spilled the drugs all over the room while trying to dispose of it when the law enforcement officers entered the premises.3


Drug deaths in the state have gone up every year for at least the last five years.4 Out of the approximately 456 drug deaths in 2016, 193 were due to just fentanyl, making it the number one cause of drug overdoses that year. The mix of fentanyl and other drugs (excluding heroin) was the number two cause of deadly overdoses, responsible for 121 deaths.


1“Fentanyl: The Next Wave of the Opioid Crisis.” Statement from Louis J. Milione Assistant Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration.  March 21, 2017.

2Manchester District office, New England Field Division.

32016 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary

4Source: New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services